Why Poverty? Give us the money

A Concern Universal volunteer’s perspective on the BBC Documentary.

Live Aid logoThere were many things that struck me whilst watching the BBC‘s Give Us The Money documentary, but only a few which stayed with me. As I’d been asked to write a blog post I had a piece of paper ready to write down my insights, I’ll get to what I wrote down eventually, but let me start off by saying  – I was there. Obviously not actually at Live Aid, I grew up in Hereford so the idea of attending large concerts was not something I’d come across. I mean I was actually alive and in the target demographic of Live Aid. I sat in front of the TV and watched it pretty much from start to finish. I can’t remember if I did donate anything, I had bought the single for my mum’s Christmas present. I also Ran the World and got the t-shirt. I seem to remember people shallowly discussing who was on when and how terrible the famine was wasn’t always top of the agenda.

I remember the outrage at Bob swearing on the telly and the resurrection of Queen’s career. I remember the Cars video segment. I remember thinking that it was a good thing. I remember it being the start of more celebrity-inspired giving.

I grew up a Catholic, which meant I wasn’t as shocked as a lot of my friends at the plight of the world’s poor. We regularly coloured in squares based on money we’d collected for the missions and had talks from missionaries on the situation in remote parts of the globe. We were regularly reminded how lucky we were. I mention this as one of the things that struck me was that the documentary focussed on two Irish pop stars, not English or even British. I was struck by the contrast of stone-washed Wham! fans rushing to get to the front of the stage at Wembley and the Nun actually administering aid in Ethiopia.

Ok, enough nostalgia, once they got down to nitty gritty of how all this might have impacted on the real world I started to see the problems people actually face.  The high level view of the documentary seemed to be that we’d never know what the actual impact of Live Aid was. And there’s the rub – we will never be able to discuss the impact of anything so complex in a TV documentary because if the worlds ill’s could be solved in 60 minutes we’d all have wandered off into nirvana a long time ago. It was telling that Bono and Bobby Schriver had to be parachuted into post grad school economic and development programmes.

I recently started volunteering at Concern Universal, I couldn’t really give you a single reason why. But after a few meetings you quickly realise that this development business is as complicated as any business process. I think having previously been given the message repeatedly that giving will solve things, you tend to blithely think that there is a simple solution. As with most things you quickly realise that the real world isn’t quite so simple and maybe we need to think a little more deeply when actually getting involved.

Ultimately, the programme seemed to perform the TV trick of presenting a view that sparks mild controversy (was Live Aid a waste of time) and ultimately fails to answer any real questions because it’s too busy trying to retain our interest. I don’t recall a single figure being mentioned in context of anything other than broad numbers of deaths etc. I would have liked to see some analysis of how the money actually got spent rather than the broad suppositions on how conversations behind closed doors actually played out and what George Bush was or wasn’t thinking. Those are things we’ll never know, but I guess I’m in a minority of wanting to see a spreadsheet and a few charts and graphs. The audience wants to know whether Bob Geldof is a saint or a sinner. And there is the other problem, we are interested in people, but maybe it’s the wrong people.

I almost forgot, the one thing I wrote on my piece of paper was, “How do you get people to Listen?”

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